'Tis the season for planning late fall and springtime 5ks, 10ks, half-marathons, and fulls. The choices are endless - from quick, flat 5ks sponsored by local groups to the massive LaSalle Bank marathon in Chicago.
Several friends, clients and bootcamp students are beginning to train for races, from traditional 10ks to less conventional obstacle course-style events like Tough Mudder. This week I recruited a few co-workers, in the spirit of our corporate Wellness Program, to join me in the December "The Urban Disturbance" 5K race, which features obstacles such as navigating water ballons and water hoses to jumping over a pile of fire. This would be equal parts Badass and....Crazytown!
But no matter the race, the goal is the same - finish, and finish strong. Knock it out of the park. Finish with a really good "personal best" time.
So how best to get to "best?" Answer: By doing more than just running the same route, at the same pace, every training session. Yes, logging the miles and gradually increasing your endurance at a steady race pace is a key part of the race preparation. So is a clean, nutrient-dense eating plan.
But there are also a few key workout variations and strategies that can make a huge difference in how quickly you reach the finish line. As you map out your training in the weeks ahead, consider incorporating some of these:
Get-Faster, Get-Strong Race Taining
Track Sprints and Intervals: Include a session in your weekly training that has you at the local track or field, running 100-m and 200-m sprints, and 400-m stints (with a set-the-bar-high goal of finishing in 90 seconds or less). Those speed bursts will not only make your legs stronger, but will condition your heart to last through the big final push you need on race day - when 150 percent of effort nearing the finish line will get you a fastest-ever personal race time.
Plyometrics: Jump squats, Burpees, Skaters, Jump lunges aka Scissor Jumps, and Box Jumps are no joke. Your quads and glutes and hamstrings will burn, your heart will pump so loud you're sure everyone can hear it. But the result of these short anaerobic bursts, done Tabata style or in more traditional interval style, will be amazing leg power that makes the actual steady run smoother and faster come race day. If your legs can power through 50 jump squats or burpees, they can push through those last couple of miles.
Core Training: A few of my triathlete friends say the only thing holding them up in that last leg of the race is their core. The arms are shot from swimming, their legs like jelly from swimming and cycling. The body wants to collapse, but a strong core keeps them going. This is where core work - and not just hundreds of crunches and sit-ups - comes in. TRX suspension training engages the core from the inside out with every move. Things like planks, plank-and-rows, side planks, Superman back extensions and even various types of pushups will strengthen your centermost muscles.
Alternative Cardio Cross Training: Run Stadiums to build leg strength. Do sprints on the ramps in a parking garage (with caution for moving cars, of course!). Take a cycling class to work your quads, cardio endurance and glutes and calves. Get on an indoor rower like the Concept or the Indo-Row, which is 60 percent leg power every time you push back in the seat. Do something other than just running to make yourself a stronger runner. If anything, these cardio alternatives will break up the tedium of your weeks of training.
Go Old School: There is nothing revolutionary about walking lunges with dumbbells, wall sits, step-ups on a bench or the leg press machine. But they will build up your legs, and you will need strong legs to finish strong. So even if it's just 15 minutes a couple of times a week, sneak in the basics and you will excel on the course.
Coming up: Fall 2012 Favorites, and tips for breaking out of a strength training rut...